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Jawbone sues Fitbit: when wearables become swearables


via Flickr © USCPSC (CC BY 2.0)

It’s all gone a bit nasty in the booming wearables field as Jawbone accuses Fitbit, its rival purveyor of wearable activity trackers, of essentially stealing its technology and holing it below the waterline by hiring away around a third of its employees, all in the space of a few months.

The Jawbone suit says Fitbit “systematically plundered” its confidential business information by hiring employees who downloaded documents before they left and handed them over to their new employers - all part of a clandestine effort on Fitbit’s part.

Fitbit is unrepentant. It admits poaching employees but denies doing it to steal information. And it denies that any transfer of information has taken place.

Its statement says, rather huffily, that “as the pioneer and leader in the connected health and fitness market, Fitbit has no need to take information from Jawbone or any other company….  We are unaware of any confidential or proprietary information of Jawbone in our possession.”

Jawbone on the other hand, although it claims things are jogging along nicely, has suffered production issues with its Up3 fitness band (supposed to be waterproof, wasn’t) and has had trouble breaking into profit. According to its the court filing, Jawbone is seeking both financial damages (could come in handy) and a stopper on former employees using the information Jawbone says they took.

Where there’s sudden money there’s often skulduggery and it appears that the health-crazed wearables sector is no exception. Fitbit is currently preparing for its IPO - could this have been a factor in the exodus of Jawbone employees, especially if their own company was experiencing difficulties?

Perhaps, but to buy a company is one thing; to buy a third of its employees and effectively attain the same ends is something else again…  isn’t it?

Maybe not. Readers may dimly recall the furore surrounding the exposure of an employee ‘non-exchange programme’ orchestrated by all the Silicon valley giants, including Saint Steve Jobs and Apple.  

That ended up in court and damages were handed out to employees denied employment opportunities by the non-poaching agreement the industry giants had put into place. Following on from that, a reasonable Fitbit defense (if it needs one) is that it was only complying with the first commandment of US business: that it’s every employee's right to be poached away without let or hindrance if the money is right. In fact to ‘not’ poach your rival's employees might see you in court. And the money is always right.

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